Monday, December 11, 2023

Flathead National Forest sides with private companies

| October 4, 2023 2:00 AM

A Daily Inter Lake article of Sept. 15 and excellent editorial on Sept. 17, concerned Flathead National Forest’s preferential treatment of for-profit companies while actively excluding and concealing from the public plans concerning the Columbia Mountain tram. Most Flathead residents are unaware of yet another example of Forest deception: The Highlander hiking and camping event that took place near Lakeside.

Highlander is a foreign, for-profit corporation based in Croatia. They started selling tickets a year before applying for a Forest Service permit. Soon thereafter they advertised blocks of hotel rooms for participants, and recently employees and material were flown in from Croatia, all before issuance of the permit. Highlander behaved like they had a permit while the Flathead National Forest stonewalled local inquiry, refused to disclose information, and illegally ignored a FOIA request.

The event uses the Foy’s to Blacktail, Lakeside to Blacktail non-motorized trails and the Wild Bill motorized trail. These local user groups learned about the event second-hand and officially oppose it.  Over decades, local volunteer non-profits conceived of, designed, and built these trails, and continue to maintain them utilizing grants, local donations, and volunteers.

The Highlander event should take place on private land, just like the successful annual Spartan Race.

Flathead National Forest issued a decision letter last Sept. 14, stating the event was approved. The event ran from Sept. 19-23 and allowed Highlander to “set up the weekend prior to the event,” Saturday Sept 15.—the day after approval. FNF did not post a copy of the permit, operating plan or other pertinent documents, announcing only that the event was approved to begin the following day.

The pattern is obvious and insidious: the for-profit company (POWDR at Holland Lake, Pursuit’s Columbia Mountain tram, Highlander) is given preferential treatment while local citizens are intentionally kept in the dark.

Jim Watson


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